Friday, October 10, 2003

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Ah, but what dreams may come.

I dreamt this morning that I was murdered, hit fatally to the back of the head with the broad side of a rifle butt. I didn't die. Or maybe I was 'undead'. The detective investigating the case roused me, and he had spoken with his cases' dead victims before. But unlike the others, I was hungry. I ate. Astonished at my abnormality, he had some friends make food for me. I never saw anyone, though, and he was always evasive to others as to what was really going on.

I was taking a music class at the time. In fact, I might have been driving back from the school in my father's car - a red convertible which he used to own and no longer has. The term was almost over, and after all that work, I didn't want to miss the final exam, even if I was a murder victim.

Everyone was already in place for the exam when I arrived. There was only the normal classroom space with the chairs and desks moved aside. The judges who were grading had their own seating at the side of the room in what looked like a jury box, though it was really chairs set up on a small set of bleachers on wheels that the choir sometimes used. The class smelled like I remember my hometown University's music labs did, a sort of sterile smell of synthetic particle board that everyone posted notes on, the staleness of hard floors that hundreds of students march over them since yesterdays daily mopping, and the plastic odor of the the walls, carpeted in some sound-absorbing fabric that had almost no pile to it. The students were all in place, most on a stage area with instruments in hand. I took a seat with those instrument-less, not far from the rooms baby grand piano. The students with instruments were actors from Saved by the Bell, and were assembled like a rock band. Screech and the others began to play.

They played some jazz standards. I think they couldn't have played like the rock band they looked like if their lives depended on it, but the jazz was decent. For the third song, I was to join them on the piano. I had no idea what I was doing. I lost track of the chord changes, moved unsurely, and muddled through. Which pretty much matches my real-life ability. I only know how to play what was written in front of me that I've practiced to death. I sat down as this other actress joined them, singing in some stereotypical blues torch singer woman's voice.

Then came the written portion of the exam. The teacher walked over to me. "Because of your recent accident," she said, "it's okay if you need to leave early. We'll keep a close watch on you, and once you've done enough to pass the exam, we'll let you know so you can leave."

I nodded, took a seat at a desk, started reading over the two writing assignments. I forget now what the second one was. The first was, "Write the final or next-to last chapter of your musical story. Model it after the example." The example was from a short story-length biography we had read in class. I worked hard, writing and revising. I had it pretty much planned out in my head by the time I was halfway done. My dream shifted so I was dreaming the story:

Chapter the Last

Alone in my parent's house, I walked back from the piano towards the room that had been by bedroom growing up, I saw Joan of Arc in the hallway. She wasn't completely solidified, but the music accompanying her was real. Church organ music, almost pre-baroque, with plenty of harmony in fifths and fourths and none in parallel motion. My father came home and tried to pull his green convertable into the garage. The music stopped. Dad stopped, blocked by my car in front of his usual spot.

Music stared up again from the outside. This time the music was more chromatic and shifted time signatures. I had trouble counting, first in 5/4 then changing to ... three and a half? No, in seven. And then there were many. I heard a gamelan of polyphony. I walked towards the old, broken stone fountain that hadn't worked since before my family moved in, and the music pulsed in and out with heartbeats and leaves rustling. It harmonized with a passing car as some divergent threads played with the sound of the insects hiding in the muddy ditch.

* * * * * *

I remember being at camp when I was seven or eight years-old or so. It was an all-boys overnight camp. The counselors organized few cabins, about hundred guys or so, most of them a year or two older me, for a talent show. I signed up to play, too young to realize that even the best piece I knew, something of Old Bach's from Anna Magdelina's notebook, probably wouldn't mean much to my audience. I sat down at the piano, and after the first few notes I realized it probably hadn't been tuned in years. So I stopped playing and turned to the counselor managing the talent show.

"The piano's out of tune."

He was baffled. He didn't know what to do about it. Kids laughed. I wasn't about to play on a piano that out of tune, though. It would sound horrible. Maybe he didn't realize the import the first time around.

"The piano's out of tune."

Honestly, I forget how it ended. I guess I just gave up and sat back down with everyone else. And there are people in this world who remember me only because I was some kid who went up and did a very funny comedy bit complaining about the piano. I've never disabused anyone of that notion, and even in my last year going to that camp, seven years later, some older kid came up to me. "Hey. I remember you! You're that 'the piano's out of tune' guy," he said, and he imitated for his friend's benefit the seven-year-old me's whine once or twice, and then laughed. "That was funny."

* * * * * *

The music stopped. My car wasn't there, and Dad's car pulled into the garage.

In the dream, when I realized the story had to end with those last two pargraphs, I teared up. I knew as soon as I finished putting those words to paper, I'd finally die like I was supposed to have two days before. I felt comforted to know. I put my pen to paper.....

....and then I woke up.

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